A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Gary Harris and the case of the stealth high risk prospect

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A sleeper name in the 2013 draft is Michigan State’s SG Gary Harris. Out of the blue ESPN’s Chad Ford put him in his lottery at 10th a few weeks ago. The tournament has given him a bigger spotlight since then, as one of the few highly ranked prospects who’s played well.

If Harris declares and projects as a lottery pick, expect to hear the word “safe” paired with him. Harris has the style of play of a role player at SG – open 3s, defense and a high IQ & feel. He lacks the speed, size or ball-handling of a standout slasher at the next level. As a result, the book on him will be this prevents star upside, but he’ll be a safe bet to contribute right away due to his perimeter polish and high IQ. The mentality behind taking a Harris top 14 is since many prospects at that range bust, why not play it safe with a reliable contributer, even if he has a lower upside?

I see this safety blanket as a myth. In fact I’d call Harris as risky as any of the other lottery prospects, if not moreso. Here’s why: If he’s bound to be a spot up shooter in the NBA, he better have that knockdown 3 point shot. A version of Gary Harris who hits 20 foot 2 pointers but can’t hit the 3, is fubar in the NBA. No team wants a spot up 20 foot shooter because of how inefficient those shots are, it’s the open 3s where the value is. Even if his feel for the game kept Harris in the NBA despite a lack of 3 point range and athleticism, it’d be as a deep bench player. And in the NBA drafting a 9th man in the lottery is no better than drafting a non-NBA talent, because deep bench players to fill out a roster can be found in free agency at any time.

Now why Harris is considered a safe prospect, is an assumption his 3 point shooting is a guarantee to translate. Harris is sitting at 41.9% from 3. But on 65 3FGM for 155 3FGA for the season, this is subject to a small sample size. If he had gone 55 for 155, hitting 10 less 3s over the season – he’d have shot a middling 35.4%. 50 for 155 is 32.2%, 45 for 155 25.8%. 10-20 3s over the season separating these %s, is within the range of luck. Moreso, the issue is the NCAA 3 point line is a few inches shorter than the NBA version – meaning NCAA 3s aren’t a true measure of NBA range. Finally, free throw % is a relatively decent indicator of shooting mechanics, where shooting over 80% and 85% is most encouraging. Harris is at 76.6% from the FT line for the year, which is fine but not a ringing endorsement.

All of this doesn’t rule out Harris as a standout shooter at the next level. It just means it isn’t a lock that he is. And that is why Harris is risky. To avoid “bust” status as a lottery pick, he has to be a good to great shooter. If his shooting is unpredictable – with the possibility it doesn’t translate – thus there’s a risk it doesn’t translate and he busts.

This isn’t to slight Gary Harris’ upside if he pans out. With his elite feel for the game, if he added one of the best perimeter shooting games in the league, in my books that’d be enough to be an uncontested blue chip starter in the NBA even if not a slasher. I simply contest that Harris – or the “role player” prospects like him every year, are less risky than everyone else. Since the perimeter shooting polish that leads to safe label, is in fact more of an unpredictable a bet to translate than the raw athletic tools the “risky” prospects have, such as this year’s Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress or last year’s Andre Drummond.

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Written by jr.

March 25, 2013 at 11:49 pm

Posted in Basketball

Tagged with ,

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